By Michael MacLeod
LABOUR proved the doubters wrong by holding on to the Glenrothes seat last night in a surprise by-election victory.
Former school headteacher Lindsay Roy became the Fife town’s new MP, despite having never campaigned for political office before.
Alex Salmond’s tactic of jumping on the new US president Barack Obama’s “yes we can” bandwagon fell flat on its face, but Roy was never a dead-cert to win.
He looked shell-shocked arriving to cheers at the count in Glenrothes’ Fife Institute sports hall last night.
But it took just 90 minutes for rumours of a Labour win to sweep through the hall, as SNP activists quietly slipped out the back door.
Gordon Brown will be the most relieved man since Barack Obama, as Roy polled 19,946 votes compared to SNP rival Peter Grant’s 13,209.
Early polls predicted a close race, and the prime minister resorted to knocking on doors with his wife Sarah, in a bid to squeeze out every last possible vote.
Described pre-election by SNP leader Alex Salmond as “a party in crisis,” Labour had already lost two supposedly “safe” seats in by-elections this year.
But Salmond was proved wrong as the former mining town picked 59-year-old Roy, who makes the unheard-of leap from local school rector to Westminster.
In his victory speech, Roy said: “I am now a former head teacher.
“I pledge my support to the leader of our country, who has fought hard on behalf of all of us.
“With Gordon Brown, interest rates are at a record low, pensioners are getting a cheque through their door this winter to help with fuel bills and the union is stronger.”
Had Roy lost, political commentators speculated Brown’s leadership of the country would be challenged.
Roy’s selection as candidate was a massive risk for Labour, who assumed that his “non-politician” reputation would appeal to voters.
He’ll now quit his job as rector at Kirkcaldy High School, where the prime minister was a pupil in the 1960s.
Runner up Peter Grant desperately claimed the Nationalist’s 4,478 increase in votes was “a magnificent result.”
He said: “Thank you to everyone who voted.
“We carried out a very positive and upbeat campaign, and the number of votes we got is a magnificent result.”
With the Tories and Lib Dems struggling on 1,381 votes and 947 votes respectively, the campaign trail was a two-horse race.
The election was prompted by the death of Labour’s John MacDougall, and the SNP needed a swing of 14.2 per-cent to win the seat.
Third place finisher Maurice Golden was quick to plunge the knife into the SNP.
He said: “The main story of the night is that Alex Salmond’s bubble has truly burst.
“This is a victory for the UK.
“Lindsay Roy has been a very genuine and honest guy; he’s been a maverick and I hope he continues in that vein.”
As widely expected before Thursday’s election, 36,219 voters turned out, a drop of 4 per-cent on 2005’s poll.
A hotly contested campaign ultimately saw local issues cast aside, as independence became the campaign’s main issue.
The big guns were rolled out, with Alex Salmond making eleven visits to Glenrothes, while Gordon Brown made only two.
Roy argued that the economic crisis justified the case for a united Britain, saying the government bailout of Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS would have been impossible without the union.
But SNP leader Alex Salmond accused Labour of “negative scaremongering” and adopted the “yes we can” slogan of new US president Barack Obama on the campaign trail to argue for independence.
In May Labour also lost a byelection in Crewe and Nantwich, where the late Gwyneth Dunwoody had been elected with a majority of more than 7,000 in 2005.
It was an embarrassing night for the Scottish Socialist Party (212 votes), who were beaten into fifth place by the local pensioners of the Scottish Senior Citizens’ Unity Party (296 votes).
The poll was propped up by UKIP on 117 votes and Solidarity on 87 votes.